PTSD Awareness Series: Part Two

Welcome back 4D supporters for the second week of PTSD Awareness Month.  Part two of the series includes information from two healers in the Denver area that I have come to know fairly well.  Aubry and and Audrey, no I’m not making this up, are both committed to helping people heal by giving them the tools to do so.  Aubry recently graduated from Metro State University with a Bachelors of Art Degree in Psychology while Audrey is a highly trained licensed massage therapist (LMT) at Peace of Mind Massage in the Wash Park neighborhood of Denver.  Both of these women focus on the holistic side if treatment and empowerment when it comes to their client’s well being.

Aubry was kind enough to talk to me over coffee one morning and she provided really great information for Alpaca Roaming readers (that’s you!) and even gave me insight into something that had confused me for years about my own PTSD.  For those who might still be fuzzy on this, the condition of PTSD occurs when a trauma peaks your survival instincts but rather than processing through the event mentally and physically the process gets interrupted and the result is some level of PTSD.  This is a generic and novice explanation of the more complicated process that takes place but I want to provide a simple base line for you all.  When trauma occurs and we do not process through it all the way the trauma gets stuck, so to speak, and our brains have essentially been rewired.  For those familiar with war veterans sustaining a TBI (traumatic brain injury) PTSD and a TBI are not one in the same.  The TBI is a physical injury while PTSD is a mental injury.

There are several ways to develop PTSD.  I touched on this briefly in the first article but to elaborate, journalists have developed PTSD covering war torn parts of the world or places that have been decimated by natural disasters that have resulted in people doing desperate things to survive.  There are also people in these already tragic instances who committed crimes because they knew they could get away with it when officials were throwing all of their resources else where.  Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story by Mac McClelland is a prime example.  It’s an interesting read and I applaud her ability and courage to write in such detail about her experiences but it can be a tough read.  It’s a fantastic book but I have to take it in piece by piece.  It is not a nightstand before bed type of book.  Other traumas include but certainly are not limited military service, rape and other sexual assault, physical assault, verbal, mental and emotional abuses, natural disasters, car accident, mugging etc…  Even witnessing the life threatening event of another person can leave someone with PTSD. 

Aubry also gave me some insight into factors that could predispose a person to PTSD.  As clinical as some of it was, she broke it down in a way that non-clinicians would be able to better understand that sometimes there is more to trauma then the event itself.  Aubry explained to me The Theories of Diagnosing Personality Types and how certain personality types are more prone to PTSD than others.  Example one is an insecure attachment style.  This is when a person is co-dependent on others and more susceptible to having life changing events occur in their life.  Example two is a lack of solid childhood foundation.  The lack of love and support growing up could lead to issues with behavior, learning, emotional stability and more.  I count myself lucky that my parents adopted me when I was only nine weeks old from waring Venezuela. I have my quirks but not feeling loved by my family has never been one of them.  Example three is genetics.  This is one that most people never consider.  Genes that predispose someone to reacting to trauma can lead to PTSD and even co-morbidity.  Co-morbidity is the presence of two or more illnesses or disorders in one person.  Environment can activate trauma genes that lay dormant until there is an incident that triggers it.  Aubry continued on to say that often treatment of one ailment leads to having to treat another ailment.  It’s like cutting off the serpent’s head and another one or two appearing.  It’s a vicious cycle.

One of the biggest take aways that Aubry shared with me is her outlook on what her and other therapists duties are to their clients.  “As therapists, the thing we need to understand is that we’re not here to fix you but rather here to give you the tools to fix yourself.”  As someone who chooses holistic tools for healing, this truly resonated with me and I appreciate her willingness to share her education, insights and personal stories. She too is a major advocate of holistic healing practices when appropriate.

Speaking of holistic healing, Audrey the LMT who is the second healer kind enough to take part in this series shared some amazing information in our interview as well.  First and foremost, Audrey is one of the most skilled, educated and intuitive body workers I have ever encountered.  She has been practicing massage therapy for eleven years, ever since she was earning her degree in economics and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh.  From Pittsburgh she practiced full time for about six years in Miami until landing at Peace of Mind in Denver, Colorado in 2017.  When I asked her what led her to massage therapy her answer made me smile and honestly melt just a little bit.  She has a brother who has special needs so she grew up, “[…] immersed in a community where focusing on helping others was the norm, so whatever career I chose was going to have that as a central element. Massage therapy turned out to be the career that let me improve people’s quality of life most profoundly while maintaining my own physical and mental health. Hospitals, NGO’s, bureaucracies, etc. are inherently stressful; massage therapy is uplifting…no contest.”

Out of my own personal curiosity I asked her what the mix of male vs. female clients with PTSD was and if she knew enough of their stories to be able to tell me what the nature of their traumas may have been (i.e. military service, assault, abuse etc…)  When she answered that more female clients have PTSD than male it was not a surprise.  The simple fact that a higher rate of physical and sexual assaults exist for women than men makes the risk of PTSD higher for women.  What I was not expecting was that the number of clients who have served in the military are evenly split between men and women and Audrey made a good point about what actually led to their PTSD.    “Almost everyone I’ve worked with who’s served in the military has some level of PTSD; some from combat, many from the cultural stressors—which do often include verbal and emotional abuse—combined with the physical rigors of their duties.”  She also made it a point to share with me that most of her clients with trauma histories do not actually self-identify with having PTSD, but more on military veterans with PTSD before the end of the month.

I also wanted to know if Audrey could pin point any similarities between PTSD clients.  Clinicians often say that no two cases are alike, that the triggers are different, the reactions are different etc… but that there are broad similarities.  “Lack of autonomy seems to be the underlying issue that draws trauma from being part of someone’s past into their present. Not having control during traumatic experiences and then having their self-determination undermined thereafter by their symptoms makes people especially sensitive to any external factors that threaten their sense of control.”

I can personally attest to this.  While I am the person you want around in a crisis because I act like a special forces team member and make sure that everyone is alright no matter what I have to do, there are little things that wouldn’t bother anyone else but they make me melt down.  In part, it is that I have already gone through extraordinary measures to keep certain people in my life safe and cared for so I sometimes do not have the reserves to  handle minor situations.

Another factor is exactly what Audrey touched on in our interview.  I had no control over the traumatic circumstances that I either endured or witnessed but rather could only do damage control.  When things seem out of my control in my life my mind starts to melt down.  Sometimes I can manage it and other times I have to feel the awfulness and wait for it to pass and then move on.  People don’t understand how I could be perfectly fine moving across the country to a city I didn’t know all by myself and the answer is simple.  I chose that path.  I chose to leave Milwaukee because my past life was just that, in the past and I was determined to make a new life.  I chose that path, I planned it out, I orchestrated the move, I secured an apartment before arriving in Denver and I secured a job transfer with my company at the time.  There were no major uncertainties before I loaded my Subaru, opened the back door for Nero to hop in, and took off for the Mountain West.  I had a plan, I executed that plan and that plan worked.  Show me a television episode where someone tries to or successfully ends their life by taking a blade to their wrists and I’m curled up on the couch crying and I can’t move.  See the difference?

Education plays a significant role for both the healer and the client.  Audrey has significantly diversified her skills.  She has training in multiple styles of bodywork, is familiar with corrective exercises and self-care techniques (i.e foam rolling, stretching etc…), has researched behavioral economics and mood disorders and even worked as a nursing assistant in a psychiatric hospital which gave her, “[…] a wider context to understand how trauma impacts someone’s quality of life and the barriers and challenges they encounter.”  

Educating her clients about bodywork is another part of how she helps clients take control of their own healthcare.  A prime example is the confusion surrounding the term “myofascial release.” For her purposes as a massage therapist, myofascial release is a gentle technique that, “[…] focuses on healing on an emotional as well as physical level, and is taught by John Barnes or someone trained by him.  However, a lot of therapists are using the term ‘myofascial release’ to describe other types of bodywork, like structural integration, rolfing, trigger point therapy, and myofascial techniques, that focus on structurally manipulating the fascia to break up physical restrictions, can use a lot of force, and don’t address emotional healing or trauma.”  To drive home the point, if you are specifically interested in myofascial release therapy, you must find a therapist who trained with John Barnes or one of his instructors.

In relation to education and information, I asked Audrey if she found a certain amount of information beneficial when helping her clients.  Her reply was that, “There’s no such thing as too much information.  Even if someone just said, ‘I have a history of trauma.’ or ‘I have PTSD.’ and nothing else, it gives me valuable understanding to make any treatment more effective.”  I have personally experienced this shift with Audrey.  Something may hurt on me physically and I don’t know why and it could turn out to be that I pushed myself too hard at the gym so my hip pain is actually caused by my knee pain.  Conversely, my shoulder pain might not be from weight lifting but actually a protective holding pattern from my date assaulting me last Summer as the right side of my body took the brunt of the assault.  While Audrey never expects a client’s life story, the little comments all the way to the life story helps her create a completely tailored treatment specific to that person for the best healing process possible and that is not something a client easily finds.

As we started to wrap up the interviewer I asked Audrey how working with PTSD clients effected her and she simply said, “I feel inspired when I’m working with PTSD clients. All the time, I see people show amazing courage as they allow themselves to feel emotions they’ve been protecting themselves from and let go of old beliefs and fears that were hindering their quality of life.”

I sincerely hope the information these two ladies shared was of interest and more importantly helpful whether you are coping with PTSD symptoms yourself, know someone else who is or even just didn’t know about PTSD in general now you do.  If you are looking for a couple of good books concerning information on PTSD, trauma and holistic healing, I have read and revisit the two titles listed below from time to time.  Yoga and meditation has helped me immensely over the past two+ years and there are other great resources out there, these are just two books that I find insightful and helpful.  I encourage you to find what works best for you.  Until next time, be good to yourself and others.  Remember, we’re all human.

Waking The Tiger: Healing Trauma by Peter A. Levine

Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body by David Emerson

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